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Di Canio Apologises After David Miliband Quits Saying 'I Don't Have A Problem With Anyone'

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David Miliband quit after Di Canio took up the post | PA

Sunderland's new manager Paolo Di Canio has apologised to anyone who has been offended by his comments after David Miliband quit his role at the football club due to the Italian's "past political statements".

Di Canio, who was reported to have said he was a fascist and appeared to give an open-handed salute while playing for Italian side Lazio in 2005, denied he was a racist and said his comments were taken out of context.

In a statement issued jointly by the 44-year-old and his new club, the former West Ham striker said: "I expressed an opinion in an interview many years ago. Some pieces were taken for media convenience. They took my expression in a very, very negative way - but it was a long conversation and a long interview.

"It was not fair. I know it is a part of my job to do interviews because I am well-known, but sometimes it suits their purpose to put big headlines and a big story.

"What I can say is that if someone is hurt, I am sorry. But this didn't come from me, it came from a big story that people put out in a different way to what it was.

"I don't have a problem with anyone. I haven't had a problem in the past and I don't know why I have to keep repeating my story, to be defending myself on something that doesn't belong to me every time I change clubs. Talk about racism? That is absolutely stupid, stupid and ridiculous."

His comments come after former foreign secretary Mr Miliband quit his role as vice-chairman and non-executive director of the Black Cats following Di Canio's appointment last night, citing the Italian's "past political statements" as the reason.

Di Canio was responding to media reports that he told Italian news agency Ansa in 2005 "I am a fascist, not a racist", and made what some interpreted as a far right salute at a game in the same year

Mr Miliband, who is also stepping down as an MP, said in a statement on his website: "I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future. It is a great institution that does a huge amount for the North East and I wish the team very well over the next vital seven games.

"However, in the light of the new manager's past political statements, I think it right to step down."

The appointment also prompted anti-fascist campaigners to call for Di Canio to clarify his views and Sunderland city leaders to warn him politics had no place in football.

Di Canio continued: "Something can happen many years ago but what counts is the facts. My life speaks for me. Of course it hurts me because people try to take your dignity and that is not fair.

"I believe in my pillars and I have values. What offends me more than anything is not because they touch me; they touch what my parents gave to me; the values they gave to me. This is not acceptable.

"I don't want to talk about politics because it's not my area. We are not in the Houses of Parliament, we are in a football club. I want to talk about sport. I want to talk about football, my players, the board and the fans.

"My first priority is my family and my daughters, that's obvious, and secondly to have the responsibility for thousands of people. This is my priority and I want to be focused on this aspect. I don't want to talk any more about politics - I am not a politics person."

Sunderland AFC said comments suggesting their new manager may hold extreme views were "insulting".

The club's chief executive Margaret Byrne said: "Sunderland AFC is a traditional football club, with a rich and proud history. It has a strong ethos and ethics and that has not changed in any shape or form.

"Naturally it's been very disappointing to read some of the reaction to Paolo's appointment in the last 24 hours. Anyone who has met Paolo and spoken with him personally, as we did in depth before making this appointment, will know that he is an honest man, a man of principle and a driven, determined and passionate individual.

"To accuse him now, as some have done, of being a racist or having fascist sympathies, is insulting not only to him but to the integrity of this football club.

"Paolo has spoken emotively and at length in order to clarify some of the misconceptions that surround him and historical comments and actions attributed to him in the past.

"My role and that of the Board is to act in the best interests of this club at all times and in appointing Paolo Di Canio we feel we have done just that. It is disappointing that some people are trying to turn the appointment of a head coach into a political circus.

"We are a football club and now want to allow Paolo and the team to focus on the rest of the season."

Neither Sunderland AFC, nor Di Canio, will make any further comment on this matter, the club added.

Following last night's appointment, Sunderland chairman Ellis Short has said he believes Di Canio is the man to steer the Black Cats away from the relegation zone.

"Paolo is hugely enthused by the challenge that lies ahead of him. He is passionate, driven and raring to get started," Mr Short said in a statement on the club's official website.

"The sole focus of everyone for the next seven games will be to ensure we gain enough points to maintain our top-flight status.
"I think that the chances of that are greatly increased with Paolo joining us."

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